Per the policy for postdoctoral researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published in the Penn Almanac (https://almanac.upenn.edu/articles/of-record-policy-for-postdoctoral-trainees-at-the-university-of-pennsylvania) June 21, 2022, the new term limit for postdoctoral researchers will become effective as of July 1, 2023 and will apply only to those hired on or after this effective date. Postdoctoral researchers hired prior to July 1, 2023, retain the current five-year term limit at Penn, regardless of previous experience.
The policy states the following:
“Duration of Appointment
Postdoctoral appointments are for one year and may be renewed annually based on satisfactory performance and availability of funding. Under current University policy, the cumulative PDT experience should not exceed five years total. Under exceptional circumstances, such as a prolonged period of leave (e.g., extended medical leave) or other extraordinary situation (e.g., pandemic) during any of these five years, upon request of a faculty mentor, an extension may be granted by the appropriate Dean or Vice Provost for Research.”
The “cumulative PDT experience” includes previous postdoctoral research experience completed at Penn or another institution for the cumulative “five years total.” As described above, the new term limit of cumulative five-years’ experience only applies to postdoctoral researchers starting at Penn on or after July 1, 2023.
Below is recommended guidance for implementation of the five-year term limit policy. Schools or departments that seek additional guidance can contact their appropriate Vice Dean for Research, Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs, or the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.
Options to Continue Research at Penn
If a postdoctoral researcher is nearing completion of their five years of experience and it would be advantageous to the postdoc to continue their research collaboration at Penn, there are two recommended research positions they can pursue at the end of the five-year term limit. It is recommended that faculty mentors initiate the process of transitioning the postdoc into a new position six months prior to the end of their postdoctoral appointment. The two positions are summarized below:
Research Associate (Academic Support) Research Associates work in sponsored research programs and must hold the appropriate terminal professional degree in their disciplines. Full time service in this position may not exceed three years, except with approval of the provost. This research faculty track position can request an exemption from posting the position. Faculty mentors or PIs should contact their school’s faculty affairs office to initiate the process.
Senior Research Investigator (Research Staff) Senior Research Investigators work in sponsored research programs and must hold the appropriate terminal professional degree in their disciplines. This staff position can request an exemption from posting the position. Details on exemption requests are included in the recruitment section of the University’s human resources policies manual. Faculty mentors or PIs should contact human resources or their department’s business administrator to initiate the process.
Management of Five-Year Term Limit
Faculty mentors or PIs, or a staff delegate assigned to manage the appointment of a postdoctoral researcher, are responsible for determining the years of previous experience and the number of years a postdoctoral researcher is eligible for postdoctoral training at Penn. The number of years a postdoc is eligible at Penn should be communicated to the postdoc in their initial appointment letter so there is a mutual understanding before the postdoc accepts the position as to the potential length of their appointment at Penn.
Calculating Years of Experience
The years of postdoctoral experience calculation will determine the number of years a postdoc can stay in a postdoctoral position at Penn if they continue to be successfully reappointed. The calculation will also determine the postdoc’s minimum stipend level. Postdoc positions are twelve-month appointments and may be renewed annually based on satisfactory performance and availability of funding.
Postdoctoral experience is primarily focused on conducting research or highly specialized research training under the supervision of a mentor that takes place after the postdoctoral researcher has received their PhD or equivalent degree and should be included when calculating the postdoctoral researcher’s cumulative years of postdoctoral experience.
For postdocs who do not immediately begin an appointment upon receiving their PhD, the faculty mentor should determine the starting year of experience for their appointment at Penn based on the length of prior postdoctoral experience and subsequently calculate their terminal year at Penn (i.e., fifth year of appointment). Prior experience as a postdoc which equals less than a 12-month increment should be included based on the discretion of the faculty mentor.
Exceptions in calculating the total cumulative years of experience can be made under certain circumstances which are outlined below.
- If a postdoc continues in the lab or department of their PhD advisor for the year following the successful defense of their dissertation to complete additional research, papers, or projects related to their dissertation work, this year of research under the continued guidance of the postdoctoral researcher’s PhD advisor does not need to count towards their cumulative five years of experience.
- For postdoctoral researchers that have completed a dual MD-PhD degree, any clinical fellowship completed after the completion of their degrees does not need to be counted towards the postdoctoral researcher’s cumulative five years of experience.
- Prolonged period of leave prior to their experience at Penn (including parental leave, sick leave, unpaid leave, etc.)
Request for One-year Extension
As previously stated, the cumulative postdoctoral researcher experience should not exceed five years total. Under truly exceptional circumstances, such as a prolonged period of leave (e.g., extended medical leave) or other extraordinary situation during any of these five years, upon request of a faculty mentor, the appropriate Dean or Vice Provost for Research may grant an extension. A letter outlining the justification for an extension, confirmation of available funding, IDP or performance appraisal, and an updated CV should be submitted for consideration. As of July 1, 2023, extension requests related to pandemic related research disruption will generally not be considered an exception.
Short-term extensions can be managed and approved at the departmental level, contingent upon funding. For extensions longer than 90 days, a formal request for an extension should be submitted following the same guidelines as a one-year extension.